Ohio’s Original Interscholastic Creative Writing Program for Middle Schools

Power of the Pen's History

Almost every school throughout the nation has a football team, a basketball team, and a wrestling team. Why not a writing team? Why not a season of interscholastic writing events? Why not a regional competition for the best young writers in Ohio? Why not a State Finals to measure and reward the art of written expression?

These were the questions that inspired the vision and led to the birth of Power of the Pen in 1986 by its founder, Lorraine B. Merrill.

Lorraine's first interscholastic tournament was held at Nordonia Junior High School and attracted just a handful of schools. But more importantly, the initiative helped earn her recognition as a Christa McAuliffe Fellow by the U.S. and State Departments of Education (1988). As a consequence, she was granted a year's sabbatical to bring to life her vision of blending innovative teacher training with interscholastic writing competitions as a means of strengthening academic achievement among students at the middle school level. This was accomplished (1988-1989) with substantial funding support from the Gund, Knight, and Cleveland Foundations.

Incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization at that time, the program has since grown to become one of Ohio's largest educational enhancement programs. Middle school students throughout Ohio will benefit from Power of the Pen instructional methodologies this year, including nearly 3,000 who will compete in formal Power of the Pen interscholastic writing tournaments.

Major Milestones for Power of the Pen

Power of the Pen, first called Olympics of the Pen, originated in 1985-86 as a single interscholastic writing tournament funded by the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation. Nordonia Junior High School hosted the event attended by 170 students and 28 teacher-judges from 15 neighboring school districts.

24 schools formed a coalition dedicated to the expansion of the program. Through the efforts of this interscholastic advisory board and supported by continued funding from the Jennings Foundation and the Knight Foundation, the Ohio Interscholastic Writing League (OIWL) was born. In one year, it was able to coordinate a season of three preliminary writing tournaments that culminated in a Northeastern Ohio Regional Tournament at Akron University.

The Founder, Loraine Merrill, is honored as a Christa McAuliffe Fellow and is given a one year sabbatical (with salary paid by the U.S. Department of Education) to create a State program.

Power of the Pen hosts its first State Tournament at Denison University.

The College of Wooster assumes the role as official host site for a much expanded Power of the Pen State Tournament. It offers the first full college scholarship for POP's Promising Young Talent Award.

Power of the Pen launches an adjunct program, Power of the Pencil, to bring creative writing enrichment to students at the 5th and 6th grade levels. Enabling grants for the program are secured from The Ohio Arts Council, The Turner Foundation, The GAR Foundation, and The Martha Holden Jennings Foundation.

Author Elsie Beachler donates $50,000 to sponsor the state tournament for five years. Elsie and her husband Don dedicated their lives to helping others, also providing funding for the Daybreak program for neglected children in Montgomery County, as well as the Beachler Nursing University at Good Samaritan Medical Center.

In memory of Flo Gault, Flo and Stanley Gault provide a gift to sponsor the annual poetry award. Generous benefactors Flo and Stanley Gault were also longtime supporters of the College of Wooster. A well-known business leader, Stanley Gault served as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the College of Wooster from 1984-2000.

Due to a global pandemic, Power of the Pen hosts the first online regional tournaments in its history.

Power of the Pen alum Jasmine Warga wins a Newbery Honor for her third book, Other Words for Home. When she was in 7th and 8th grades, Jasmine competed as part of the team at Wyoming Middle School.

Family members establish the Power of the Pen Founders' Award in Memory of Frank and Lorraine Merrill at the Springfield Foundation. The fund annually honors a deserving writer and supports the state tournament.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Power of the Pen completes its first-ever entirely online season, with district, regional, and state tournaments held virtually. The online format was temporary, with plans to return to in-person tournaments as soon as allowed by pandemic guidance.

Power of the Pen
PO Box 2640  |  North Canton, Ohio 44720

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